China reveals details of new icebreaker | Polarjournal
A model of the proposed new Chinese heavy polar class icebreaker. (Photo: China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation)

At the International Shipping Conference and Exhibition in Shanghai last week, China’s Shipbuilding Industry Corporation unveiled a model and technical specifications for a massive icebreaker with conventional propulsion. With a displacement of 26,000 tons and the ability to break through three-meter-thick ice at two knots continuously, the Class 2 Polar Vessel comes close to the latest Russian nuclear icebreakers “Arktika” in terms of size and icebreaking capability. China operates two icebreaker research vessels so far.

Just a few days ago, the world’s most powerful icebreaker, the “Arktika”, went on a test run in St. Petersburg. (Foto: Rosatomflot)

China had already announced plans to develop a nuclear-powered icebreaker when the country’s General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) submitted bids to design and build the new vessel in early 2019. At the time, experts suspected that a nuclear-powered icebreaker could serve as a technology test bed for further development of nuclear-powered propulsion systems in large-scale vessels such as aircraft carriers for the Chinese Navy.

The “Xue Long” is China’s first heavy icebreaker. The ship was built in 1993 by Kherson Shipyard in Ukraine as the third ship of its class. The ship was purchased by the People’s Republic of China in 1994 and converted into a polar research vessel.

The proposed icebreaker is a larger and more powerful vessel compared to China’s first homebuilt icebreaker Xue Long 2. Like its predecessor, it will have bi-directional icebreaking capabilities and target scientific operations as part of its focus. Facilities include hangars for two helicopters and accommodation for 180 crew and staff.

The vessel will use flexible fuel options, with both marine diesel and natural gas. The latter will have priority when used in environmentally sensitive areas.

China operates two medium-sized icebreakers to date. The first, “Xue Long 1” (Snow Dragon), was built in Ukraine in 1993 as an ice-class cargo vessel before being purchased and refitted by China as a polar research vessel in 1994. The country’s first home-built icebreaker, “Xue Long 2” was developed in 2012 with the assistance of Finnish engineering firm Aker Arctic. The vessel was built by Jiangnan Shipyard from December 2016 to summer 2019.

The US Coast Guard is planning three icebreakers. They will be built by VT Halter Marine . (Photo: VT Halter Marine)

A decade of new icebreakers lies ahead

China is just one of several countries investing heavily in modernizing and expanding icebreaking capacity. Last week, Russia’s “Arktika,” the first in a series of at least five new nuclear-powered icebreakers, launched sea trials after more than six years of construction. In the U.S., the U.S. Coast Guard will build three heavy icebreakers over the next decade. The start of construction on the shipyard of VT Halter Marine on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is scheduled for 2021. The first delivery is scheduled for 2024.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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